One was fiction that read like a memoir. It was beautiful and sad. The other was a true memoir that seemed more like the story of every dysfunctional family you've ever heard of, rolled into one.
I gave up on The Glass Castle after a while. It was riveting, but in the way an accident scene is riveting. You feel like you shouldn't look, but you can't help it. It consisted of episode after episode of abusive parent stories. I don't mean to trivialize the author's experience. I don't wonder, as others have, if it was really true. She had a horrid life. But I couldn't keep reading it. People have told me that the book is really worthwhile as the author shows how she and her siblings overcame their early lives. But I just couldn't get that far.
I'm glad I started reading The Distant Land of My Father at the same time. This is a beautiful family story, though there is much dysfunction in it. It also has rich historical detail that I find so appealing in a novel.
Anna is born in Shanghai in the early 1930s. Her parents are American; her father, the child of missionaries, was also born there. Her mother, Eve, moved from California when she married Joe. Joe is a businessman who loves his family, but he loves business and Shangai more. Eventually Eve takes Anna to California to escape the war. Joe is supposed to follow them after finishing up some business, but... he doesn't come for a long time. And when he comes, he doesn't stay. He can't give up Shanghai.
The story moves effortlessly between Anna's life after leaving Shanghai and her father's story as he stays behind. He is imprisoned twice - by the Japanese, and later by the Communists.
This is ultimately a very satisfying story of love and forgiveness. Maybe all good stories are about love and forgiveness.
Here is a passage I found particularly sweet. Anna describes her feelings after her mother dies. It perfectly describes the way I felt after my own mother's death:
With her death, a part of my life just disappeared. Many times a day, I picked up the phone and put it down again, remembering too late. Over and over, I thought to tell her something, or ask her something, or see if she'd like to do something, and over and over, I reminded myself that she was gone - a fact that never made any sense - and the dull ache inside me would start up again.I am looking forward to Bo Caldwell's next novel, City of Tranquil Light.